Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for notes, disclaimer

The Source Of All Things + Chapter 4
Shinigami

Heero wasn't looking at the mass of muscle and steel approaching him. He was glaring at Trowa's sword. He started swishing it a bit, back and forth. He jabbed with it, then shook it some more, as if it wasn't working like he expected.

"Er-" Duo squeaked. The boss was almost upon the young man.

Heero didn't lift his head, merely dodged the first blow that hammered into the ground where he'd been with enough force to crack the packed dirt, raising a veil of dust in the air. The huge sword immediately slashed sideways, much faster than any of the others anticipated. Trowa's mouth went dry as he re-evaluated their opponent once again. Unlike Quatre, Trowa had heard a bit about Shinigami and he didn't think this was him, the mysterious one's reputation as a thief and a killer was something else again, but the giant wasn't any slouch with that big pig-sticker of his either.

But Heero... wasn't there. The boss staggered and stared at the young man who was several feet away from him. The boss had moved surprisingly fast. Heero's speed had been uncanny. And he was still looking at Trowa's sword, with a disappointed scowl.

"Heero forget the damn sword already and fight!" Duo suddenly shouted, carefully putting the rock between himself and the warriors. The boss gave the young man one cruel glance and grinned like a feral animal, then turned back towards Heero who was now nodding.

"Yes."

As the boss charged, he tossed the sword aside.

Maxwell's screech of alarm had barely left the young man's lips ­Trowa swung up his crossbow but didn't have a clear shot, neither did Quatre with his mana bolt- Heero had ducked under the guard of the down-swinging sword, caught the sword-arm and brought it down against his knee with the force of the raging river Reg nearby.

The magical armour was tougher than steel. It shattered. The bone beneath it didn't stand a chance. It ripped up through flesh and skin until it hit the remains of the armour in which it embedded.

The boss howled and swung a fist at Heero, who dodged it without looking. He dropped the mangled arm and struck straight out with his elbow, knocking the bandit back. Then he spun in an elegant circle, and his foot smashed against the man's side, sending him crashing to the ground.

The boss managed to roll onto his knees, his face ashen beneath the twisted spiral of scars on his face. Heero was already upon him. This time the blow was prepared and had his full weight behind it.

Even Trowa winced as the man's chest plate was smashed, throwing him back three feet despite his mass. The huge man chocked and coughed blood. Heero ­

"No." Quatre whimpered.

- walked towards him with the same steady pace, grabbed him by the neck, lifting him effortlessly to his knees, right fist drawn back to deliver a devastating final punch to the man's face.

"Heero no don't!" Quatre screamed.

Heero's fist stayed poised in the air. For a few long seconds he stood there. His left hand was the only thing keeping the bandit on his knees. It didn't tremble in the slightest.

Then he dropped the bandit and turned around.

Duo made a noise of protest in his throat, as the bandit twitched, then crawled to his knees and, without a backward glance, staggered to his feet and, clutching his badly injured arm, limped away.

Heero didn't seem to notice. He walked back to where the fight had started and picked up the shotgun and Trowa's sword, which he began to clean on one of the fallen bandits.

"You didn't kill him... " Duo said carefully, trying not to scream in frustration at someone who could knot him like a string without breaking a sweat.

"Hn."

"Er, why?"

Heero frowned. "Quatre said not to."

"Oh." Duo glanced at a white-faced Quatre, who was staring at Heero.

"Well, I'm not complaining. I'm grateful." Maxwell's voice seemed slightly shaky, but he smiled at Heero as he came around the rock and approached him slowly. "You beat him good, he won't bother me anymore. I can lead you out of these mountains and get out of here myself now."

He took the last few steps separating him from Heero and laid a gentle hand on his forearm, smiling just so as he fixed violet eyes into blue. "I can be... very grateful to you, Heero. I-"

The smile froze. Heero had looked at him, then dropped his glance down at the hand on his forearm...

Duo snatched his hand away and took a few steps back. "I'll be grateful to you over here, then, shall I? Erm, we okay?" He seemed ready to bolt. Heero's expression had been horribly familiar, a frown, and a gaze that was as empty as a freshly dug grave expecting a body.

"Hn." Heero turned back towards the road and started walking, avoiding the pools of blood from his victims.

Trowa grabbed the horses' halters, soothing them with a whisper, calming them to get them past the bloody remains of battle. He was frowning too. He remembered hauling Heero to his feet when they'd met. Quatre had also given him a very thorough physical examination. Heero had made no dangerous gestures towards them at all. Which, seeing the result, was fortunate. Why did he brush off Maxwell? Battle heat, Trowa supposed, and made a note to himself not to get near the stranger for the next hour at least.

*

In the falling twilight, camp was set up with few words. Quatre and Duo were both silenced by the day's events, and almost as taciturn as their travelling companions. Duo sat down for three seconds as Trowa started making the fire, then stood up again.

"I'm going to have a quick look at the road up ahead. It's been a few months since I've been able to walk these mountains like I wanted to, I'll make sure nothing is lurking ahead of us."

"That could be dangerous." Quatre said gently, a worried look on his worn face.

"If you hear screaming, then you were probably right." Duo grinned, flipping his braid, and trotting off into darkness.

Quatre looked at Heero uncomfortably. He stopped himself from shivering. The gentle healer could cast a mean mana bolt, kill when he needed to, but death was his only enemy, and the cold executions of that day had chilled him.

Trowa stocked up the fire well and hung the pot with the day's rations on the hook he planted near it. He swung the pot over the edge of the fire, and handed the long spoon to Heero, who took it with a curious frown.

"Heero."

The man glanced up. Trowa leaned towards him slowly, still holding on to the spoon.

"Heero, Maxwell is a bit loud and flighty, but I don't think he's any danger. I need him to guide me out of the Reg, it's been too long since I've been here, and this place is dangerous. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Good. Do you think Maxwell is going to be a problem?"

Heero's eyes turned slowly to where Duo had disappeared.

"No. I don't think he's a problem. If he is... he's easy to kill if he tries anything."

Trowa's lips tightened.

"Well, don't kill him unless you're very sure he tried something. Don't exterminate him because he tried to make a pass at you, got it? We need him."

"Hn."

"Right. Stir this every few minutes or so, should be done in less than an hour."

"Hn."

"Good."

Trowa stood, walked over to a shivering, wide-eyed Quatre, swung the healer up into his arms and, ignoring his weak protests, strode off towards the vardo.

From high up the rock face against which they were camped, Duo looked down at the scene with a small amused smile.

Then he straightened and disappeared as if the gathering dusk had etched him out of existence.

An instant later and seven miles away, he reappeared at the entrance to a cave, dropping out of the darkness like a cat. The entrance to the cavern was partially reinforced with bricks and crude stone barriers. He whistled gently as he strolled in and bent to open a chest against one of the walls.

"Master?"

The voice was tiny, high-pitched and grinding, like a baby rock, if such things existed and could speak.

A small creature flitted through the cavern's darkness. It was about the size of a large man's hand, a dark reddish brown with black chitin covering its small chest and back. It was vaguely humanoid, small arms and legs and a relatively big head, with crude features and big, bird-like black eyes.

Duo Maxwell paid it no attention. He was lifting out several objects, putting some of them in the slim pack he'd been carrying since they left the camp that morning.

"Master?" The creature flitted around his head. It had wings like a bat, but it was obvious that it wasn't using those to fly, since it was hovering most of the time, and the wings only beat on occasion.

Duo grunted as he pulled out a small ball of murky glass from the chest. He strode towards the entrance of the cavern where a slice of moon cast a watery glow through the gathering twilight. He took off his short black gloves, covered the ball in his hands for a second, then tossed it in the air, and it hung there, spinning. Its edges blurred and grew. Soon Duo was looking at an evanescent globe hovering before his face.

"Master?" The small creature was twisting a bloody rag in its small hands. "I've been taking care of Fardyo. His arm is pretty bad, I don't think I can heal it all that well."

Duo looked intently at the image forming in the globe. The vardo appeared, and Heero in front of the fire, dutifully stirring the contents of the pot.

There was noise from the back of the cavern. The creature glanced at it nervously.

"Maxwell... " The rumble was dark with agony and anger.

"Isn't he amazing?" Duo murmured, his gaze on Heero's face as the vision centred on him. "They're all pretty good. The shaman shot that bolt right through the shields. I didn't get a chance to look at what he's using yet. I'll have to steal one. But this guy... I wonder who ­and what- the hell he is... "

"Is he the one that beat Fardyo?" The creature flitted before the vision.

"Yes. Barely broke a sweat. And I think there's a lot more where that came from. I was beginning to think this was a stupid idea but I certainly hit paydirt. Get your bags packed, imp. We're outta here."

"Maxwell!" The roar ended in a wheezing cough.

"Is that the new one then, master?" The imp glanced at Heero's image.

Duo frowned. "I think they all are. I'm sensing they're something of a package... I just met them, I don't know their deal yet... "

A huge shadow leaned over him. The light of the rising moon fractured on shards of broken glass armour.

"Maxwell... don't think you can leave like this." The snarl echoed through the cavern.

"Now mister Fardyo!" The imp squeaked, suddenly shooting around the cavern like an agitated bug. "Master has been very kind to you already! You are much stronger now than-"

"I want to be stronger! You will make me stronger, Maxwell! We had a deal!"

"It only works as long as you beat them, Fardyo. It's more than a matter of our deal. The magic will only work with their life-force." Duo didn't bother to turn around, his eyes fixed on Heero, puzzled, calculating.

"You are much stronger than before, mister Fardyo." The imp hovered in front of the huge man, making placating gestures. "Please do not ask for more. You will heal and you will leave, and not bother Master again. Right?"

"What?" The big man clutched his mangled arm to his side with a grimace. "I'll be bothering your master Shinigami plenty! Listen you little shrimp, you don't scare me! You'll heal this arm and make me stronger-" the image in the globe shifted, Duo frowned in concentration "- or I'll-"

Duo's eyes didn't move from the globe. His arm didn't seem to move either, though his hand was now around the taller man's throat.

"Mast-!"

There was a sickening, ugly crunching crack. The imp barely dodged the spray of blood that decorated the walls of the cavern and the young man at its entrance.

"Master." The imp sounded weary. "Did you have to kill him? You put so much work into him. Over three months! He was getting quite strong!"

"He was a waste of time." Duo was still looking at the globe's image. He held the body single-handedly, without apparent effort, as if he'd forgotten about it. "But good bait in the end. I caught myself something much more interesting."

"But he will be arriving so soon! You won't have time to do much to this new one!"

"That's the beauty of it, I probably won't have to. Though I do have a few ideas. Imp, I'm looking for that nest of wyverns we saw a week ago, where did they get to?" The body thumped to the ground, and Duo scratched his chin with a bloody hand, leaving streaks like black paint in the silvery twilight.

"They moved to the north east, master."

"Oh right. Hmm, we can be there in two days. I want you to lure them towards us then."

"Master!?"

"And I want them to be in a fucking bad mood, imp. Got that?"

The tiny creature seemed to deflate. "Got it, master." It was hovering lower and lower, it was about a foot from Fardyo's body.

"Good. That should be a nice warm-up. See what these boys are worth. I want you to scout out the road ahead of us and spot any other potential surprises we can throw at them." Duo's hand ghosted over his mouth, and he absently licked the blood from a long finger. Then he made a face. "... real waste of time... why'd I bother... " He flicked his fingers. Something black, not unlike his glove, sprang from his wrist guard and curled quickly around his hand before receding. His clothes seemed to shake and twist around him, and a spatter of blood went flying from the garment, the hand, the long braid, until the young man was once again spotless.

"Right. We'll play it by ear. I'm going back now. Imp, when you- ... imp?"

He glanced around. There was a small sucking noise instead of the usual grinding voice. Imp was curled up against Fardyo's neck, lapping at the blood still trickling from the wound where mangled vertebrae had pierce through the arteries and skin.

Imp squealed as Duo drop-kicked it clean across the cavern and it smashed against the far wall.

"Master?" It muttered, in a voice that can only be described as crushed.

"Pay attention, Imp." Duo growled. "Wyverns. Two days from now. You get. Understand?"

"Yes Master." The imp slid down the wall, bounced on the ground and up in the air again, completely unharmed, though a bit ruffled.

"Good. Keep way out of sight in the meantime, imp, the Nightwalker will sense you a mile away, more than that at night. In fact, don't come anywhere near us, I'll find you whenever I can. Don't forget to find us some more friends to play with along the way. Just throw anything at us you can find, I think they can handle it."

"Yes Master. Can I have some of Fardyo's blood now, please?"

Duo made a face as he reached for the sphere, its revolutions slowing as returned to its previous state and dropped into his hand. "If you want, but it's not all that good, I warn you."

"I'm hungry, master."

"Suit yourself, don't come whining to me if you get a stomach ache. Just make sure you get those friggin' wyverns on us on the day after tomorrow."

"Yes master."

"Well, back to Heero. I hope whatever he's stirring tastes better than Fardyo."

"It probably will, Master." Imp sighed, licking the wound again with a grimace on its tiny face.

*

Heero lifted his head at the approaching footsteps. A few minutes later, Duo appeared in the circle of firelight shouldering away the encroaching darkness.

"Well, it's all good up ahead. Where are the... others, no, wait, don't tell me... " He looked at the vardo, which was swaying slightly, as Quatre began to get vocal again. Duo grinned and sat down next to Heero.

"Well sounds like they're having a good time!"

"They're having sex."

"Yeeees, I gathered that."

"Quatre was hurt."

Duo blinked. "What, the little squirt was wounded? I didn't see anything."

"Inside."

"Er... "

"Trowa is helping him."

"Aaah." Duo looked at Heero carefully. This was as many words as he'd gotten out of him all day, maybe he was thawing a bit. He catalogued the strangeness of the actual conversation for future reference.

"You know... " He murmured, squeezing his hands between his knees and rounding his shoulders, his braid dropping forward and swaying coyly, "I was pretty scared too... "

Silence.

"When that big brute swung his sword at you- " and you threw yours away like an idiot  "-I thought my heart would stop." His voice had dropped, husky, inviting.

He glanced up at the utter absence of anything other than uncaring silence. Heero was stirring the pot, and ignoring him completely.

A particularly loud cry rang out from the vardo.

Duo slumped forward, elbow on knees. They would take almost two weeks to get out of the Reg (following his chosen itinerary, which could only be described as the scenic and insanely dangerous route) and they would be attacked on a nearly daily basis if he had anything to say about it. If this was what a typical night was going to be like, this was going to be a looong trip...

[chap. 3] [chap. 5] [back to Maldoror's fic]